Do you buy books, having been taken by a book cover design? Happens to my all the time. If I've spotted Paris by the Book (HarperCollins) by Liam Callanan in a bookshop, I would buy it. It has a cover which draws you in with a catching design.
You see a row of houses in a respectable Paris district, with blooming trees around. One of the houses is painted in fire truck red. It stands out like a raw wound. And then there is a red balloon flying above the block.
If you're a cinephile, you'd immediately think of the short film by Albert Lamorisse about a little boy who befriends a red balloon, and about their adventures together. It is a beautiful melancholic film, quite obscure nowadays, unless you collect DVDs of old films or study cinema.
In fact, that's exactly The Red Balloon featured on the cover. It is an important detail in the narrative.
It was The Red Balloon which brought together Leah and Robert Eady all those years ago.
Both creative people, they seem to understand how individuality and imagination can absorb you completely, and how the ordinary mundane life could repel and bore you.
Their marriage starts as a union of like-minded people. Robert writes a bestseller, and then struggles to produce another book.
Then life happens. Two children later, it's Leah who has to earn the bread and pay the bills, while Robert disappears on his writing forays. He would announce that he needs some time, and off he goes gallivanting, not so much as an excuse for creativity, but rather a banal escape from the family obligations and responsibilites. At first these disappearances are short, and there is always a note or a clue of some sort. Then the disappearances become longer, and one day he simply vanishes. Without a single note.
One day Leah finds a clue in a cereal box and discovers there are tickets booked for a trip to Paris. So, she takes off with her daughters Ellie and Daphne, and opens a bookshop in Paris. Just like that.
Life abroad is quite a struggle, the business is hardly flourishing. The girls though take to Paris like ducks to the water.
Will Leah find out what's happened to her husband? Is he still alive, is he in Paris? Will they be reunited?
The plot of the novel is slow-paced, with the narrative jumping from the present in Paris to the American past.
There are numerous references to the Red Balloon as well as the Madeline books, both of which romanticise Paris.
Ultimately this is the story about grieving and coping with a loss of a loved one.
I think you need to be in the right mood to appreciate the style of the book, I confess I struggled a bit with the slow pace. The best parts for me were descriptions of Paris - streets, smells, food, manners.
Alas, I didn't care much about Leah, and her husband sounded like a right self-obsessed twit.
There are too many references to The Red Balloon and Madeline, to the point it felt affected. I wanted to shout "There are other books about Paris, you know!"
I wanted to shake Leah and tell her: "You have two daughters who need you. Stop obsessing about your selfish husband. He left you long before his disappearance. Don't waste your life on someone who clearly has a commitment phobia and whose ego needs to be stroked constantly. He made his choice, don't chase after his shadow".
Paris by the Book (paperback) is out tomorrow, 1 June 2018.
Disclosure: I received a proof copy of the book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.